I have just returned from a trip to Japan, I intend to write about a few highlights. The first is a visit to a museum on Naoshima a small 'art' island, located in the Seto Inland Sea.
The Chichu art museum was designed by the architect Tadao Ando. It is a site that is concerned with rethinking the relationship between nature and people and is mostly underground. It houses a collection of Monet's water lily paintings which can be seen in a corner less white room. There are five paintings; Water-Lily Pond, Water-Lilies, Cluster of Grass, Water-Lilies, Water-Lily Pond, Water Lilies, Reflections of Weeping Willows. The natural light produces a whiteness that seemed very good at reducing reflections from the surface of the pictures that were housed behind glass. Obviously the paintings are lovely, I particularly noticed the reflections of the leaves and tree trunks on the surface of the water – Monet choosing white to represent reflected light. I felt a bit diminished in the reverential silence and special slippers – probably a good thing though.
I was most keen to see the three works by James Turrell however and they didn't disappoint. Afrum, a cube of light directed through glass from a small gap in the ceiling formed a floating cube of white light in the corner of a room. As you walk towards it you feel that you might enter the light box itself, just hovering there at chest height. Up close, the cube turns out to be an illusion as the crisp shadows around flatten it out onto the adjacent walls. It's a simple trick and its beautiful.
Open field is a huge rectangle of cool blue light that you step up towards. It feels like the approach you might take in a religious act, taking Holy Communion at St Barts, Brighton for instance. As you get closer, the blue picture becomes something you can actually immerse yourself in.
You can actually walk all the way in.
The intense blueness of it.
You are in the painting, inside the work.
It's good, very good.
As you turn around you see how it's all done but the sensation of the complementary orange opposite was almost better than the blue. This work was aided by overstimulating my blue sensitive retinal cones and when I had turned towards ordinary white light, signals from the newly stimulated, red and green photo-receptors overwhelmed the signal from the smaller number of blue receptors that my brain had accommodated for. It's interesting that most humans have a much smaller number of blue sensitive photo receptors than green or red but the total sensitivity to blue is much greater – they also tend to be located in the peripheral parts of the retina, unlike the red and green which are clustered around the fovea. I wonder if this is why Turrell chose blue for this work? I wonder what it would be like if it was done with red or green?
The third work is called Open Sky which is part of Turrell's Open Space series.
Entering a purpose built room you can sit or lie on the floor and look up into a framed square of open sky. On the day of my visit it was a clear blue sky with a few whispy clouds every now and then. The whiteness of the clouds accentuating the blueness of the sky accentuated by the square frame. It took me back to childhood days lying on my back on the freshly cut green grass of Lee-on-the-Solent rec after a summer morning of football – football with jumpers for goalposts. It may be unfortunate that enclosing or framing something helps us see it better but in this case the defined square of open sky helped intensify my perception of the beauty of light.
There is also a monumental space featuring an installation by Walter De Maria which was a real surprise to see.
The museum is a work in its own right and whilst it is mostly underground, the concrete rooms and corridors are lit by natural light that originates from slits in the side or from high above.
I would have liked to have included more photographs but taking photos was not allowed. Actually whilst I felt aggrieved initially it means that you are not surrounded by people with their camera's and phones out and it keeps your mind free of thinking about documenting everything you see – an urge I need to suppress more often.